5 Questions for Ugg’s Creative Director

Ugg Australia doesn’t want to be boxed in.

While its iconic shearling boots helped it reach the $1 billion sales mark last year, the brand is now focused on becoming a lifestyle label, said Leah Larson, VP and creative director for Ugg, a division of Goleta, Calif.-based Deckers Outdoor Corp.

“Handbags have been fun,” Larson said about staking a bigger claim in the accessories market. “We brought them back in-house [for fall ’11], and it’s been really exciting. It’s such a natural extension for the brand.” Next, a kids’ accessories offering is slated for fall ’13.

While Ugg footwear and accessories are sold by retailers globally, the brand continues to grow its own string of concept stores in Canada, Europe and Asia Pacific. By year end, it expects to boost the store count to 70, from 45. As part of the initiative, the firm bowed its first men’s shop in June on New York’s Madison Avenue.

“Our Ugg men’s customer appreciates and understands the quality and comfort the brand delivers. They simply want to see it in refined, masculine styles,” said Larson.

For fall ’12, she added, Ugg is introducing a high-end men’s collection from Italy (the women’s counterpart debuted last fall). And NFL star Tom Brady will once again appear in the men’s fall marketing campaign.

Here, Larson talks about enticing male consumers and staying ahead in the now-crowded shearling market.

How has Ugg managed to hold its brand positioning in today’s competitive market?
[Through comfort, because] everyone wants to feel good when they put on a pair of shoes, especially when it’s unexpected. [For example], our 4-inch espadrilles — you put them on and can wear them day into night. We try to put [shearling] everywhere it makes sense. Where we don’t have it, we make up for it with extra cushioning, so you’re still getting that pillowy feel. Some of our new wedges for spring ’13 [don’t have] shearling, but there’s a double layer of cushioning or Poron and memory foam, so we’re doing both.

Moving into the high-end fashion market was a big leap. What was the key to making that transition?
It’s taking the beautiful Italian craftsmanship and incredible [luxury] materials — one of the things we stand for — and bringing comfort into it. There are certain brands that you can go to because you know they have a great last. You can put the shoe on from the get-go and wear it all day long. That’s really important for us. You know you’re going to be able to buy an Ugg product, put it on and go.

How do you convert guys into Ugg consumers?
The biggest thing is getting [the shoes] on their feet. Then, they’re hooked. They can’t walk away from that comfort. I’ve purchased many pairs for the men in my life. My husband was wearing Ugg before I met him. But Tom Brady definitely helped. He’s the epitome of the cool guy. He’s helped women buy product for their men. Guys want to be him, and women want to be with him.

Ugg built its business on the Classic Tall and Short shearling boots. As you move forward, how important are those styles?
That’s a key focus for the brand and it always will be. It’s our signature, our heritage, and we love that and celebrate the Classic boot. Every season, it’s a matter of how we can make it new for the season. Whether it was adding the Classic Short Sparkle boot a couple of years ago, or Classic Tall Bomber, or the Bailey Button [boot], which is an update to the look. We also had a collaboration with Jimmy Choo [in 2010 that adorned classic looks with fringe, studs, stars and more]. And the kids’ stuff we’re doing for spring ’13 has embellishments and embroidery.

What opportunities can Ugg capitalize on in the warmer months?
We have a really healthy spring business. I can’t give any numbers, but we’re proud of it, and there’s still a lot of opportunity here. We’ve had some great wins in spring: Our sneakers have been great and our classic Lo Pro [for spring ’12] and our surf collection. The Lo Pro is taking a classic silhouette and making it [right for] spring. It has a lower-profile outsole. Our surf collection was introduced for spring ’06. It’s still in the line, and it’s all sandals. And our espadrilles have been phenomenal.

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